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Manchester mayor chooses new police chief from field of one

New Hampshire Union Leader

June 07. 2018 1:03PM
Manchester Police Chief Nick Willard, left, and Assistant Chief Carlo Capano get sworn in by Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas at the Radisson in Manchester in June 2015. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE)

MANCHESTER — When the city of Rochester, Minn., learned last year that its police chief was retiring, city leaders started a lengthy process that included meetings with community leaders, police rank-and-file and the public. And that was just to settle on a job description.

Then the city of 113,000 hired a consulting team, which undertook a national search. An interview panel questioned three finalists in public. And citizens submitted their feedback to the interview panel.

The decision is now in the hands of the mayor.

In Manchester, the process was a lot simpler. Mayor Joyce Craig picked the assistant police chief, Carlo Capano, whom she described as “the most qualified candidate.” He was also the only candidate for the job, according to the city’s Human Resources Department.

In an age when cities across the country undertake national searches to fill top jobs, Craig was content to stick with Manchester’s traditional process, which selects police chiefs, fire chiefs and most city department heads from the inside.

Craig — whose father-in-law is a former police chief who was promoted from within — wouldn’t say there is a culture in Manchester of hiring from within.

She said “I think there’s value in the experience Carlo (Capano) has, 22 years with the Manchester Police Department.”

But an Internet search finds several cities close to the size of Manchester that recently spent considerable time and effort to select a new police chief.

Rochester is the third-largest city in Minnesota, and the majority of its leadership positions are the result of national searches, said Anissa Hollingshead, the city clerk and communications director for the city.

“With our level of change and growth, that’s the process that’s being followed,” she said. It’s fair to say that the city is doing so to get the best chief possible, she said.

“It’s a process open to internal candidates; the net’s cast widely as well,” she said.

Eugene, Ore. a city of 166,000, went through a similar process and even let community members submit questions to finalists during community interviews. Over 1,300 people participated in the year-long process, which included community forums in which people said what they wanted in a chief. In April, the city announced that Chris Skinner, the police chief of Richland, Wash., was selected for the job.

The news release announcing his selection includes a five-page strategic plan for his first year.

“From the beginning it was a nationwide search. We wanted to make sure we had the best candidates for the position,” said Caitlin Estes, a spokeswoman for Eugene.

In April, officials in Syracuse, N.Y., a city of 143,000, spent a month of community and on-on-one meetings to gauge what residents want in a new chief, according to Tery Russo, a spokesman for Mayor Ben Walsh. The city is now selecting a consultant for a national search. The city hopes to have a list of finalists by October and name a chief in November.

“There will be opportunities for finalists to meet and interact with the public,” Russo said.

Hiring from within

Police Commission Chairman Scott Spradling, who, coincidentally, is a Syracuse native, acknowledged that Manchester has a long line of police chiefs hired from within. They include Nick Willard, David Mara, John Jaskolka, Mark Driscoll, Peter Favreau, Louis Craig and Tom King.

Spradling pointed to results: the department is fully accredited, he said, and it has a good reputation in the state and nationally.

“We have a long and capable line of past chiefs, including the current chief, so I think our process is fine,” Spradling said. He termed Capano’s selection “a great call.”

In Manchester, city ordinances do not prohibit community input or national searches. But they require that any vacancy be posted internally for five days before a search is expanded.

Nothing requires a mayor to select an internal candidate. A final candidate must be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by a majority of aldermen.

Initially, Craig would not disclose the number of internal applicants for the job, saying that would violate personnel confidentiality rules. But the city Human Resources Department said that only one internal applicant applied for the job, after a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter questioned whether the city could legally keep the number of candidates secret.

Craig said she held an interview before selecting Capano. She also sought input from past and current members of the Police Commission and community leaders who said he was qualified and highly regarded.

She said she did not reach out to people inside the police department, but she heard from both current Chief Nick Willard and his predecessor, David Mara, who both gave Capano high marks.

“I chose the most qualified candidate for the job, period,” Craig said.

Portsmouth’s process

Portsmouth, a city of 21,000, undertook a national search after Police Chief Stephen DuBois resigned in 2015.

Mayor Jack Blalock said the national search took about seven months (Manchester’s Mara filled in as interim chief), and was overseen by the Police Commission, which makes the final decision.

“They wanted to be very transparent and get a lot of public input,” Blalock said. Finalists were announced to the public, and community leaders met them. The Commission selected Robert Merner, a veteran Boston police captain who was working as assistant chief in Seattle.

Blalock said Portsmouth went through a series of chiefs who were promoted from within. They would take the top job for a year or two and then leave.

“The talent pool was diminished (in 2016),” he said. In the future, a national search might not be necessary because current Portsmouth officers are developing experience.

Public Safety Local and County Government Manchester

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